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Special Effects Vs Visual Effects- What’s The Difference?

Modern audiences demand high standards from filmmakers and expect them to suspend reality and present extraordinary stories that are beautifully crafted. This is why there’s such a strong reliance on both special effects (SFX) and visual effects (VFX). You often find these two terms are confused or are incorrectly believed to be interchangeable- we explore the clear differences between these two crucial film production techniques below.

What Are Special Effects In Filming?

Special effects is something that’s been happening since the earliest days of filmmaking. In fact, the pioneer of special effects – Georges Méliès – used various contraptions and artistic devices to deliver creative film work in the early 20th century.

However, as you would expect it’s a technique that has advanced considerably since then! Modern special effects involve an incredible and innovative array of gadgets, prosthetics, make-up, animatronics, and pyrotechnics that add dramatic and impressive touches to productions. These are all employed during filming. So, in essence, special effects are mechanical or artificial methods of enhancing the audience’s visual experience, used in real-time.

Visual Effects In Film Making

The biggest difference between special effects and visual effects is that the latter takes place after filming. VFX involves post-production manipulation of footage, using creative skills and the latest editing technology.

Thanks to the experience and dedication of VFX experts like Green Eyed Monkey Productions, it’s also a highly affordable way to enhance film for television and cinema. VFX has largely replaced SFX, as visual effects software and skills produce incredibly realistic and seamless results. Today, the use of VFX in movies and television shows is outstanding, and has exceptionally grown and advanced over the decades.

Visual effects that you see in your standard adventure movie can differ from spaceships flying through the sky to magical animal movements, which are added in through a computer after shooting. VFX largely involves one of the three visual effect categories- computer-generated imagery, compositing, and motion capture, which each play a huge part in the outcome and movies that we watch today.

Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI)

Digitally created VFX is now incredibly sophisticated. Computer-generated imagery (CGI) includes 3D visual effects that can accurately reproduce any location, object or living entity. CGI has dominated films and television today and taken a huge influence over the ways movies and shows are created. Many great CGI movies and television shows have been created which are marked as some of the greatest cinematic moments of all time! From Avatar to the Game of Thrones, most of your favourite things to watch incorporate CGI.

Though CGI VFX is often used for fantasy scenarios and creatures, it is an ideal way to manage production budgets, logistics and timescales, such as a massive crowd that is digitally produced, or a significantly altered appearance for an actor. CGI can be implemented in both 2D and 3D ways, and can alter any form of object, scenery, backdrop or person, making the viewer believe what they see is real.

Compositing In VFX

Sometimes referred to as chroma keying, this is a visual effect that draws on several separate elements, and then places them together. It is a visual effect that often relies on a green screen or blue screen backdrops, to enable seamless weaving together of action and location. Thanks to the constant developments in technology, compositing images are everywhere in the movies and television shows we see today!

Motion Capture In Movies And Television

Motion capture (mocap) involves a computer-generated 3D model that mimics the movements of an actor, to enable them to complete impractical, dangerous or fantasy tasks. It is largely used today in many shoots thanks to the huge developments and focus on making a character come to life. Motion capture creates every movement of an actor’s performance and transforms it into a CGI cinematic piece, which is why many mythical creatures and objects in some of your favourite movies and TV shows are existent.

Advantages Of Commissioning Visual Effects

The work that goes into a movie or television show containing VFX is outstanding, and certainly takes time. While costly, visual effects can go beyond the realm of special effects, as they bring fictional characters, new worlds and gravity-defying stunts to life. With VFX, you can subtly enrich any film or TV programme, whether that’s correcting or enhancing raw footage, adding in additional elements, or putting characters in situations that would be impractical or impossible to capture with a live-action shot.

It’s important to stress that VFX improves site safety during filming. For example, a special effects explosion has to be carefully orchestrated to keep the crew (and equipment) out of harm’s way. Adding an even more impressive explosion as a visual effect – post-production – is utterly safe.

Imagine being able to destroy vast landscapes or complex buildings, then rebuild them in a keystroke. Do you need a huge mythical monster, or to ‘film’ the tiniest of microbes? You can also document the most inaccessible places on Earth, using the latest CGI techniques.

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